To Serve

“Bye, love,” he called out. As usual, she gave no response, and he locked the door behind him.

The sun was warm on his face, but the air was crisp, and he pulled the cap down firmly on his head. He had to be careful at his age, didn’t want to turn out like so many of his ex-colleagues, giving up on themselves once they left the job. It was like they forgot everything they’d ever learnt on the Force.

He wouldn’t be like that, though. He’d continue to walk his beat, and he’d always be prepared. That was why he wore a pack on his back. You never knew what you’d come across.

The lawn needed cutting, but the flower-beds were tidy, the edges sharp and even, and no sign of weeds. She’d be proud of his work, once he’d run the mower over the grass.

Another lesson from the Force‌—‌good first impressions were important. Just look at these other gardens‌—‌festooned with weeds, walls missing bricks, rotten fences leaning at precarious angles. What did they say about the owners?

That house up ahead was a case in point. Abandoned bike, overflowing bins, the only colour the scattered rubbish, flies buzzing around piles of excrement.

Twenty years ago a quick word would have sufficed. But now, even with fines and the threat of criminal convictions, some people didn’t care. They made the mess, but left it to others to clear it up.

He paused, shuffled the pack from his back, and removed the items he needed.

* * *

When he was satisfied, he walked on.

The house’s occupants would most likely complain though, say it wasn’t his business. But that was people all over now, wasn’t it? Couldn’t see how their selfishness impacted others. Like the driver of the car ahead, the one parked on the pavement, leaving the narrowest of spaces to squeeze through. For someone pushing a pram, or using a wheelchair, there would be no option but to use the road itself.

The car was expensive, so he doubted fines would have be any deterrent to the driver. No, this individual required a more targeted message.

He glanced around, checking for witnesses, and then ducked down. If anyone did see him, he’d argue that he was tightening a bootlace or picking up a scrap of paper.

* * *

The canal used to be pleasant. He’d often walk the towpath for a few minutes to clear his head before resuming his beat through the estates. But now, debris-clogged weeds clung to the bank, the path was riddled with dog excrement, and the whole place stank. There were no idle strollers now, only joggers, dog-walkers and the ones he called the lost youth.

They’d always existed, of course‌—‌too old to be children, too young to be mature adults, and too wayward to be in school or about some purposeful business. In his days on the Force, a sharp word would send them away. Often, the mere sight of a uniform would be enough.

But no longer.

And he remembered, when he’d rushed to the hospital. They told him she’d warned the gang, and when they answered back she’d gone outside, confronted them. Only stood in the doorway, but that was enough.

Her physical injuries were from stones, boots and fists. But the psychological wounds ran far deeper.

And all they’d got were a few fines and slapped wrists. As if that was any kind of justice.

The quartet of layabouts on the towpath ahead sauntered along, and he soon caught up. He gave a quick, polite, “Excuse me,” and moved to the side of the path to overtake.

One of the lads‌—‌pimply face, smoke stuck between his lips‌—‌turned, said something crude.

“I only wish to pass.” He smiled, but his old training kicked in as he surveyed the situation. Two females, one other male, all between fifteen and eighteen. Hooded tops, all smoking, a couple holding cans too. They reeked of alcohol and weed.

And they now stopped, blocking his path.

Maybe, if they’d been ten years younger, they might not have been so confident, might not have seen him as a soft target.

One of the girls told him to get lost, although she used far cruder language, as if that would shock him. But he’d heard it all before, and had long since learnt to let it wash over him.

He repeated his request to pass, remaining polite and passive.

And, of course, that only made things worse. They laughed at him, started pushing.

There was only one way to deal with people like this.

* * *

From the canal he doubled back, retracing his steps through the estates. It had been a reasonably productive walk, and he looked forward to telling her about it. She was always so proud of the difference he made.

The car still sat on the pavement, as he expected, although the flat tyres had levelled it out now. And there was a fire engine on his street, uniformed fire-fighters around the burnt out garden and the charred brickwork.

The smell of fire, as always, brought back more memories, of spreading ash over her beloved garden, and of his promise. He wouldn’t let those hooligans disturb her now.

And maybe those louts on the canal path had learnt their lesson. He hoped so‌—‌he didn’t like losing things, even though discarding the knife in the water had been the most sensible option. At least he’d worn his gloves, so there would be no evidence. Even if there was, he could argue self-defence.

He unlocked the door and entered the house, and his eyes fell on her picture, the one in the hall, from the year of his biggest promotion. She beamed at him, full of pride and joy.

He smiled back as he removed his coat, brushing moisture from his eyes.

“Still serving,” he said. “Still doing the best I can.”


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  1. Pingback: New short story – ‘To Serve’ | T. W. Iain

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